Isles sweep their way back to Brooklyn
Eliminate Penguins in four to assure playoff round(s) at Barclays
The last time the New York Islanders swept away a playoff opponent, they celebrated by skating the Stanley Cup around the Nassau Coliseum for the fourth time in as many years.
If they are fortunate enough to continue and ultimately complete this year’s startling postseason run toward a fifth title, they could be drinking from Lord Stanley’s coveted chalice right here in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn.
By finishing off their first four-game postseason sweep since 1983 with Tuesday night’s 3-1 victory over the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins in front of 18,609 fans at PPG Paints Arena, the Isles assured our fair borough that it would re-open the Barclays Center ice for the first time since Feb. 16.
Though many in and around Uniondale, N.Y., home of the renovated Nassau Coliseum, will likely cry foul at the NHL’s decision to have the Isles host their remaining playoff games on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, New York players aren’t concerned with the switch in venues.
“I’ll be honest with you, I enjoyed Barclays Center in the playoffs,” veteran forward Matt Martin, who helped the Isles win their first postseason series since 1993 here back in 2016, noted.
“Our fans filled it up and made the noise and made it loud,” he told the New York Post moments after New York had jettisoned Sidney Crosby and the Penguins into the offseason. “They’ll be doing that again, I guarantee it.”
There was never any guarantee that the oft-criticized Brooklyn arena would be relevant on the NHL scene following the Isles’ 5-2 win over Edmonton at Barclays just over two months ago.
But buoyed by their league-leading defense, the brilliance of goaltender Robin Lehner, Mathew Barzal’s deft passing, and some timely goals from Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson, the Isles stifled Crosby and shattered Pittsburgh’s dream of a third Stanley Cup crown in the past four years.
“Early on a lot of people wrote us off and were shocked,” said Eberle, who scored a goal in each of the four games, including the tying tally in the first period of Game 4.
“We’re confident in the way that we play, the way that the group is here, and this is one of the tighter-knit teams that I’ve played on. We love battling and playing for each other. If you do that every night on a consistent basis, you can go places.”
While their next opponent hasn’t been determined yet, as Washington and Carolina are still locked in a tough first-round series, the Isles know they will host at least two home games in Brooklyn during the second round.
On Feb. 15, the NHL announced that following the first round at NYCB Live, Brooklyn would be the home for Islander hockey for the remainder of the playoffs.
With a greater amount of luxury suites and a slightly larger seating capacity, Barclays will provide the league with a greater revenue stream when the Isles return to the ice next week.
Between now and then, many will point to the Isles’ two home playoff wins in Uniondale as a sign that the team should remain on Long Island as the postseason continues.
However, the numbers tell a far different story.
New York went 12-7-1 in Brooklyn this year while posting a 12-7-2 mark at the Coliseum.
The Isles also boast an impressive 78-48-18 record at Barclays since moving in back in 2015.
So, the arena doesn’t figure to be much of a problem, or an adjustment, for the Isles, though it may impact those on Long Island who will have to take the LIRR or drive into Downtown to see their team in action.
“I don’t think it matters where we play, our fans will be there,” Martin insisted.
“They’ll show up and they’ll be loud. And we’re excited for it.”
As they should be.
By knocking off the Pens, the Isles provided themselves with a well-earned rest while the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals and Hurricanes duke it out for the right to play New York.
First-year Isles head coach Barry Trotz, who guided Washington to its first-ever Stanley Cup title last season before inking a four-year deal to coach here, believes his team’s dogged, determined nightly approach will serve them well going forward.
“[The series] got a little hairy at times and our bench didn’t go emotionally off the rails,” he said after winning his fifth consecutive postseason series behind the bench.
“We stayed pretty composed and I liked that. We focused in on the right things and guys had moments when they almost came off the rails, if you will, and everyone around them pulled them back in. To me, that’s how we will have success.”
Isle Have Another: Barzal finished with five assists in the series, registering a helper in each of the four games and Bailey and Nelson notched three goals apiece as New York outscored Pittsburgh, 14-6, in the series while limiting Crosby, arguably the best player of his generation, to a single point. … The time off between series may benefit a couple of players who left Game 4 with undisclosed injuries. Both veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk and long-time Isles forward Cal Clutterbuck left the ice in the second period Tuesday and did not return. … The Capitals, who ended the Penguins bid for a third straight title last year, were leading the Hurricanes two games to one entering Thursday night’s Game 4 in Carolina.
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